State Rep. John Bel Edwards gave strong support for expanding health care to the working poor in Louisiana, while Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne offered his cautious backing, at a gubernatorial forum in New Orleans Tuesday night.

Edwards, a Democrat from in Amite in Tangipahoa Parish, would expand Medicaid under the Obama administration’s health care act on his first day as governor through an executive order.

“We’re talking about people who don’t qualify for Medicaid because they work,” Edwards told the crowd at Dillard University, adding that the infusion of federal dollars would have saved the state $52 million in 2015.

Dardenne, a Republican from Baton Rouge, said he would appoint a task force upon taking office to craft a plan to seek a waiver from the federal government to allow Louisiana to accept the expansion with some changes. The task force would present its plan to him within 30 to 45 days. “I want a waiver that grants Louisiana the flexibility,” Dardenne said.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle — the two other major gubernatorial candidates — did not appear. Vitter was in Washington, D.C., on Senate business while Angelle was at another campaign event, according to officials with their campaigns.

In an emailed statement, Vitter expressed his openness to accepting the federal Medicaid dollars, “but only if we’re doing three things,” he said. “Number one, we have to reform programs through a private coverage or other model. Number two, ensuring that this doesn’t lead to death by a thousand cuts to priorities like higher education. And number three, increasing work requirements for able bodied citizens who receive help.”

Angelle also would not rule out seeking the expansion.

“I do not believe we should expand our broken Medicaid system, however, I am ready to have a discussion about expanding coverage through a conservative market-based solution,” Angelle said in an emailed statement. “I am looking at models that other states have adopted to see what is working and what is not.”

The Medicaid expansion would extend health care to about 225,000 Louisiana residents. Gov. Bobby Jindal has opposed accepting the federal dollars.

During the 75-minute forum sponsored by a nonprofit called Healthcare for Everyone, Dardenne and Edwards expressed an ease with each other on the auditorium stage and agreed on many of the issues. On one issue where they disagreed was their view of the Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare.”

Dardenne said he would like Congress to repeal the measure. “I think it’s an overreach by government,” he said.

Edwards said the measure isn’t perfect but said, “It is the right thing for our people, on many different grounds,” noting that one out of every six Louisiana residents doesn’t have health insurance.

In one other difference between the two candidates, Edwards looked for opportunities to express his dismay with Jindal, who leaves office in January.

“This governor has been an unmitigated disaster,” Edwards said. Earlier, he had said, “We’ve had a governor for too long who has been outside of Louisiana promoting himself.”

Dardenne was less pointed about Jindal.

“Today happens to be my 113th day as acting governor of Louisiana as the governor travels around the various states in search of the presidency,” Dardenne said. “I can count on one hand the number of face-to-face meetings I’ve had with the governor during my time as lieutenant governor.”

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